James Werrell

Trying to limit hazards to unavoidable ones

My youngest brother recently gave up bicycle riding.

This is the same brother who had tried diligently a few years back to convince me to take up bike riding again, maybe even riding one to work. He insisted that it is great exercise and a handy way to get around town without burning fossil fuels.

I said maybe, knowing I wouldn't seriously consider it. Too sweaty in the summer. Too vulnerable in rainstorms. Too much hassle if you have to run errands.

Plus, I often curse bike riders on local roads, as they blithely pedal along in their skin-tight, spandex biking outfits, wanting us to think they're oblivious to the six cars backed up behind them. Bicycle riders on public roads are a menace.

But my brother no longer is one of them. He had an epiphany as he soared over his handlebars and landed head-first in the road. His helmet, thank God, protected him from serious injury, but during a visit to the dentist a few weeks later, the dental assistant said, "Hey, did you know you have a cracked tooth?"

That was all he needed to hear to put a halt to his bike riding, at least in urban settings. Me, too.

Similarly, I recently spoke with a good friend who had joined his brother this summer in climbing Mount Katahdin in Maine. I had climbed Katahdin, which is in Baxter State Park, twice in my teens when I went to summer camp in Maine, so I knew what was involved.

It's a tourist mountain, but a formidable climb nonetheless. At some points, you are climbing the mile-high mountain hand over hand, or traversing large granite boulders where a slip would have dangerous consequences.

Thus, I was delighted when my friend, who is about my age, said it almost killed him. He said that going up was hard, but coming down was even harder. His legs had become jelly-like from exertion, and he fell a few times. And he is in much better physical shape than I am.

Would he ever try it again? Emphatically, no. And neither would I.

In fact, no mountains beckon. I like looking at them on postcards, from an airplane window or from a comfortable chair in the lodge, but I have no desire to climb them. Or to ski down them. Or to hang glide off them.

I salute the people my age who still do want to challenge mountains, run marathons or compete in the Tour de France. But I have decided to limit the testing of my strength and endurance in dangerous situations to those that are inadvertently foisted on me, such as catching a baby thrown from the second floor of a burning building.

Sports? I will continue my daily walk. I will take the occasional swim. And gardening, that's a sport, isn't it?

Also, a recent week at the beach offered several non-life-threatening physical activities, including body surfing and shell collecting.

My favorite, however, was beach bocce, a sandy variation on the Italian game (also known as boules or petanque in France, as bowling on the green in England). The game basically consists of throwing a small ball, then throwing larger balls to see who can come closest to the small ball.

It also is a game that can be played with one hand, leaving the other free to hold a cold beverage. That immensely increased its appeal for me.

My daughter, in fact, was equally entranced.

"It's now my second-favorite sport," she told me.

"What's your favorite?" I asked.

"River tubing," she replied.

Now that's a daughter a father can be proud of.